On a previous thread, one of the commenters said that as writers of fiction we are charged with making sense of this chaotic world. That, in fact, ours is the most important job of all.

But is it really? I've never felt that way. We're not feeding the hungry or curing disease. We're entertainers, pure and simple. Philosophers have been pondering the meaning of life for thousands of years, with no conclusive answers. A novel isn't going to make sense of this chaotic world any more than a video game is going to mow the grass.

If I can make someone laugh, or bring a tear to their eye, or send a chill up their spine, then I feel that I've done my job. And really, it's difficult enough just to do that.

So why do you write? Do you consider yourself primarily an entertainer, as I do? Or do you aspire to loftier goals?

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The "better man" thing is key, in Lehane's mind. Your fiction should take the protagonist on a journey that makes him a better man/woman -- better in the sense that, now he's helping others, not just himself.

That happens in some books, which is great, but it's not really crucial to producing a satisfying story, IMO. Travis McGee, for example, remained pretty much unchanged through 21 novels, but we love him just the same.

I certainly don't love Travis McGhee.  He bores and irritates me.

Same here. But I only read the first book in the series. It was well-written, but one of the most boring books I've ever read. Lacks all tension. 

And how can you impose ideals?

You're joking, right? People try to do it all the time. White supremacists have a set of ideals, and so do communists, and so does everyone in between. Evangelical Christians believe it's their way (to Heaven) or the highway (to Hell). Do some of those people try to impose their ideals on others through fiction? Of course they do. Is it a good thing? I don't think so, but it's one of the prices we pay for living in a society with free speech. And that is a good thing.

Do some of those people try to impose their ideals on others through fiction? Of course they do. Is it a good thing? I don't think so...

Those are obvious and easy to see. What I find more common are authors who claim to not be imposing any ideals and are just going along with whatever ideals already dominate. Okay, this is a little melodramatic, but that's 'just following orders.'

It's fine, of course, to support the dominate ideals, but it's also probably a good thing to recognize that and make the decision to support them (by not questioning them).

 

 

For Jude:

Wrong ideas are not ideals. I was rather thinking about basic stuff like the 10 commandments and love thy neighbor and make a sacrifice for the common good. 

Fascinating examples you cite.  Any of these would make a nice soapbox subject for an author with a conscience.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Maybe there is a responsibility here to fight back at wrong ideas. Ruth Rendell used to do a lot of this sort of thing. I have never really liked the message getting in the way of the story, though.  One must be more subtle about it.

I think fiction, at the very least, fights provincialism and selfishness. It's a gateway to empathy, if you will. There's a Harvard professor by the name of Steven Pinker with a new book about violence, and he argues that violence has declined quite a bit over the past five hundred years or so and he says the invention of the printing press is one of the main causes.

If all I thought I were doing was entertaining I wouldn't bother. But it is what I do much of the time.

I think fiction, at the very least, fights provincialism and selfishness. It's a gateway to empathy, if you will.

But then you have factions who claim that violence in media is responsible for violence in real life. I would argue that fiction is not the cause of, nor the cure for, society's ills, but rather entertainment (which, to me, is not the dirty word it seems to be to some people here), and if we're lucky a bit of nourishment for the soul.

No, entertainment isn't a dirty word. You asked what our purpose was and for some of us the 'nourishment-entertainment' ratio is different. Say, 60-40 nourishment? When I work in TV it's about 80-20 entertainment (with lots of complaining that there should be a little more nourishment).

 

You asked what our purpose was and for some of us the 'nourishment-entertainment' ratio is different.

Or maybe we could agree that entertainment and nourishment are often one and the same. ;)

Or maybe we could agree that entertainment and nourishment are often one and the same. ;)

Often they come in the same package, sure. The nourishment analogy is good, I think, because most people would agree that a balanced diet is important. So yes, sometimes we're trying to slip in some nourishment with the ice cream and sometimes we're trying to get a little more flavour into the vegetables. And sometimes we just want the ice cream.

So, yes, a lot of books are fast food and there's nothing wrong with that (I eat fast food at least once a week). I'm just glad that there are still a few of those cool little indie restuarants in my neighbourhood run by a chef in addition to the franachises run by guys with management degree.

 

Hmm.  The analogy works. Most readers are ice cream gluttons. Very unhealthy!

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